Those Cheating Astros: Stealing Way More Than Signs

I hate cheaters. I mean, don’t we all? And the Houston Astros cheated. We knew that back in November, but this week’s suspensions of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch (Astros general manager and manager, respectively) handed down by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred catapults the story back into the headlines. 

Now to be fair, Luhnow and Hinch seem to be unfairly getting all the blame in this whole scandal. It was really the players themselves who were doing most of the dirty business, and apparently Hinch even damaged some of the monitors that the players were using to cheat. Yet, Major League Baseball has punished only Luhnow and Hinch with suspension, and only Luhnow and Hinch have been fired by the Astros. True, the whole organization was fined $5 million, but for an organization worth nearly $2 billion, that’s barely even a rounding error. MLB seems to be saying that the general manager and the manager are the ones responsible for clubhouse culture and the buck stops with them. Are they the fall guys for a larger problem? Absolutely. In this scandal, and in turn in this article, Luhnow and Hinch are stand-ins for the whole team in a kind of blame-game synecdoche.

The context: You likely know that before each pitch, a catcher uses a complex series of hand gestures (signs) to relay what the next pitch should be. Deciding what pitch to throw to a particular batter, in a particular inning, given a particular scenario of on-base runners, etc. is a very complex calculus, and can be the difference between life and death on the mound. If somehow a batter could know what pitch was about to be thrown, he could know where to swing, or even if to swing at all. It gives the competitive edge to the batter and thus could turn the offensive tides of the game.

And here’s what might be most interesting: stealing signs isn’t illegal. It’s not even frowned upon. Any time you have a runner on second base, you can bet your copy of Eight Men Out that he’s trying to crack the code. The pitcher and catcher know that, and so they change things up from inning to inning, batter to batter, and sometimes even pitch to pitch. This kind of sign-stealing is just good baseball. 

So if sign-stealing isn’t illegal, what’s all the fuss about the Astros? Instead of using the smarts of the runner on second, they used cameras to watch the catcher and crack the code and then, somewhat inelegantly, hit a trash can with a bat to communicate with the batter. Now that’s cheating. 

What’s the difference?

In a recent interview sports broadcasting legend and fellow St. Louisan Bob Costas gave to CNN, he said that the kind of cheating the Astros engaged in damages the “credibility of the competition,” and what are sports at their core but competition? Thus, technology–be it cameras and trash cans, or even human growth hormone–can unbalance or even potentially remove genuine competition altogether, leaving it in the hands of machines. It’s not the sign-stealing that’s the problem, it’s making the intelligence required to play the game, well, artificial.

Any of us that played youth sports and were fortunate to have a great coach (mine was Gary Ruder), heard some variety of this unfortunately trite bit of very real wisdom: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game. 

“How you play the game” is the athlete in peak physical and mental condition dazzling us with feats of human strength, strategy, intelligence, and creativity. How you play is in the eyes of a pitcher and a batter locked in icy combat, athlete against athlete, nothing between them but sixty feet six inches of tension. How you play is the high school wrestler who conceded to his opponent, even though he could have won due to his opponent’s injury. How you play is where all the joy and excitement and interpersonal connection of sports is. Sure winning is more fun than losing (just ask Boston Bruin Brad Marchand), but only when the win is pure. 

I’ve never met Luhnow or Hinch, but I’d bet my last Pete Rose baseball card that they’ve seen The Sandlot. I bet both of them played stickball in the yard on a warm summer’s afternoon. I bet they both skipped school to show up early to the ballpark to watch batting practice. What went wrong? How do you go from watching Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez steal home to banging a bat against a trash can?

I wonder if they never had a Gary Ruder, though I bet they did. I’m not naive. I’m aware that professional sports have become far more a business than a past time. Men like Luhnow and Hinch have to win. A multi-billion dollar industry has grown up around our childhood pickup games, and the pressure to win has become not only the most important part of the game, but perhaps even the only part of the game.

Some people might try to distract from the real issue by pointing to the fact that the Astros still hold the Commissioner’s Trophy, the record books all say that the Astros were the first team to with the Fall Classic in both the National and American Leagues, not to mention the fortune that the championship run made for the team. They got the W, no matter the cost. 

But will baseball-loving kids really grow up wanting to be the 2017 Astros? Or will they make a movie about them like they did about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team?

I don’t think so. Kids want to be heroes, not cheaters. It’s up to us to teach them that how they play is far more important than winning or losing and that losing doesn’t make them losers. They have to learn from us that they can succeed in life, in business, in sports, in whatever without being forever ensnared in the cold, dead fingers of technocratic capitalism.

I think that we play and watch sports because we know that sports are about something much more than winning or losing, and about way more than making money. Sports are all about how you play the game. 

Photo courtesy of  Eduardo Balderas

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This Is Why I Dare to Pray

In the last year, a small phrase from the Mass I’d not previously paid much attention to, I learned to love. It is the preface to the Our Father when the priest says, “At the savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”  

I recall when we first changed to this translation nearly 10 years ago and I heard many people say things along the lines of, “We don’t ‘dare’ to pray to God. He loves us and invites us to always approach Him in tenderness. We should not encourage people to be scared to pray!” Even now, some priests don’t say what is written and opt for something without the word “dare” in it.

Though the language is a bit intense, I have realized that it communicates a very real and important truth about prayer and my relationship with God that I’m grateful to be reminded of daily. We certainly shouldn’t be scared to pray, and God does meet us always with tenderness, but encounters with God are intense and prayer can feel like a daring activity. 

In his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete Exsultate, Pope Francis, quoting the Catechism, writes, “Between God and us, there is an immeasurable inequality.” He adds, “His friendship infinitely transcends us; we cannot buy it with our works, it can only be a gift born of his loving initiative.”

The mystery of this truth from the Catechism is that while being so different, and so unequal, God has made it possible for us to still be incredibly close to Him. There is a great paradox in this. We just celebrated at Christmas the Divine Majesty humbling Himself to take on our small and frail humanity, becoming one with us. Through Jesus, God has bridged a great divide between the human divine natures. Yet, our natures remain distinct and immeasurably unequal. 

However, I found in our contemporary context, we have opted to stress the loving mercy and intimate nearness of God at the expense of reflecting on our smallness and littleness in the presence of a God who is immeasurably greater than us. While a deep intimacy and proximity mark our relationship with God, a radical inequality still exists between God and humans. 

We should not be beholden to an immature image of God as the angry judge in the sky, the tyrant who watches our every move. But instead of forsaking holy fear of God’s majesty in order to cling to His loving mercy and intimate nearness, we should lean into the paradox of how both of these dynamics exist at once. 

And this is why I have come to appreciate hearing the preface to the Our Father at Mass. It is a daily reminder of this paradox. We stand before the Divine Majesty in immeasurable inequality, in our small unworthiness and dare in complete confidence to give Him our needs and to almost demand, “Give us our daily bread.” And then we hold Him in our hands and bring Him into our bodies.   

St. Therese of Lisieux regularly insists on a daring trust in God. She counsels us to throw all our cares upon God and have a blind, even presumptuous, trust that He will make it all work in His Providence.

“Holiness,” she writes, “is not one exercise or another. It consists in a disposition of the heart, which renders us humble and little in the hands of God, conscious of our weakness but confident, even daringly confident, in God’s goodness.”

A trust in God’s mercy and goodness that is daring is a mindset I think we can always work towards cultivating.

-//-

Photo by Gil Ribeiro on Unsplash

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Don’t Make College Football an Idol

I am both excited to watch the national championship game tonight (geaux tigers!), and I also believe college football has turned into liturgical worship. Let me explain.

Sports are so ingrained in my being that imagining my life without them is not imagining my life at all. My childhood revolved around a competitive travel baseball schedule, and I am indebted to my parents and brother for the sacrifices they made so that I could play baseball… a lot of baseball. After a truly blessed and formative experience playing baseball at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, I was able to go play college ball at Spring Hill, a Jesuit University in Mobile, Alabama. When I committed to play baseball at Spring Hill at the age of 18, I had never met a Jesuit. Three years later, I became one.

Besides God so clearly using my athletic career as the path towards Him and my vocation, God has formed me through sports. Through early morning workouts I came to value commitment and integrity, and by playing with so many different teammates I learned the importance of communication and companionship. I say all this to show that I really do love sports and I would not be the Jesuit I am today without them.

My hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a sports crazed city. It’s both deprived of a pro football team and is in a state that does not have a pro baseball team. Consequently, LSU is often treated as a professional sports team. In addition to providing athletes with opportunities to further their education and learn life skills, college sports can and do bring communities together and create a common bond between people who would otherwise be strangers. For that I’m thankful. 

I find the culture around sports in general unsettling, but my sensitivities are heightened when games are made up of students, who are still struggling through morning classes and the like, instead of professional athletes paid to play. (Please note: this is not a critique of any of the student-athletes or coaches at LSU, but rather a challenge to the surrounding culture.) I’m afraid college football stadiums have converted into a secular church, spectators have turned into worshipers, and games have become a pseudo-liturgy.

Perhaps college football is modern day idolatry of a new golden calf. Recall that when Moses was on the mountain, Aaron collected the people’s gold to create a golden calf, and the next day they indulged in drink and revelry.1 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sees the idolatry of the golden calf as a kind of worship that is “a circle closed on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification.”2 After thousands of years we continue this tradition of worship in the way we eat and drink at the tailgates, the games, and parties. The only difference being that we have substituted the golden calf for a pig’s skin.

Of course we do not dance around the football as if it were a god (except in a touchdown celebration, perhaps), but our obsessive behavior around a sport made up of developing teenagers and young adults seems like a kind of worship. We have left the pews of the church, and now pray  in the seat of the stadium, at a sports bar, or on the couch. If our primary place of worship is a place called “Death Valley,” as is the stadium name for both LSU and Clemson, then we should not be surprised that the heart of our culture seems to be filled with violence. The vulgar chants, like LSU’s infamous and terrible chant “neck,” that fill the valleys of death are the antithesis of The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world chanted at Mass. Lumen Gentium, a dogmatic constitution of Vatican II, has called for the Eucharist to be the source and summit of our life and mission, but it seems to me that people’s hopes and dreams often live in the hands of an 18-year-old running back instead of in the pierced hands of Christ.

As fun and harmless as a college football game may seem, we must remember: we will become what we worship. 

Perhaps I’m being too dramatic. I mean, no one really thinks football will save us from our sins. So let’s stop acting like it. Let’s not watch the national championship game as if it is the climax of our liturgical calendar, Easter Sunday. Instead, celebrate the God given gifts and dedication showcased by wonderful athletes who remind us of our own great potential. Let’s appreciate the national championship for the game that it is, and let’s not confuse Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence with Jesus Christ or a win with our eternal salvation.

Photo courtesy of Dave Adamson

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Baptism of the Lord: Big Moments | One-Minute Homily

What are some of the biggest moments of your life? For God, it was your baptism. Fr. Joe Laramie, SJ, reflects on the Baptism of the Lord and the moment when we were brought into the family of God. Based on the readings for January 12, 2020.

Top 10 lists are everywhere. The top 10 quarterbacks. Top 10 movies. How about your spiritual Top 10?

Hi, I’m Fr Joe Laramie, and this is my One-Minute Homily.

Recall a few moments when you felt close to God. These are moments when we felt peace, grace, and life from the Lord. It could be a family vacation, your wedding day, or a great retreat.

Let’s go a bit deeper. What about your Top 10 moments from God’s point of view?

One of those could be your baptism. Imagine the scene, with your godparents, grandparents, and friends. A priest or minister poured water and baptized you in the Name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. This was the day, and the moment, when you became part of the Family of God, as Christ washed away your sins and drew you to himself.

When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Father cries out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God is pleased to draw us into His family in the sacrament of Baptism.

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Review: “Marriage Story”

“Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best. Divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.” 

Alongside this memorable pronouncement from “Marriage Story,” I want to append St. Ignatius of Loyola’s observation that desolation, more than just a feeling, is a movement of the soul that carries us from bad to worse. 

“Marriage Story” traces a clear line from a peaceable, though painful, separation to an acid divorce—from bad to worse. It reflects the way desolation induces false narratives, either stressing a list of complaints or entrenching oneself in self-pity. Not only does the film compellingly depict the dissolution of a relationship, it also tracks the shift in the way two people reconstruct the story of their marriage. 

Noah Baumbach’s latest film follows the divorce of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansen), whom we first meet living in New York together with their 8-year old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). Charlie is an avante garde theatre director and Nicole a talented actress who stars in all his plays. While they’ve tried working with a mediator, eventually Nicole opts for a lawyer, Norah (a role for which Laura Dern rightly won the Golden Globe). Legal action brings the tension regnant in their relationship to the surface. 

The opening scene is a montage where the camera endearingly follows Charlie and Nicole individually, giving us a glance of their family life. We hear each of them tell us what they love about the other, and the camera tells us exactly what they have in mind. It’s sweet. The device serves as a love letter but also an elegy for the relationship. This is the first narrative we hear about their relationship, the first time a story of their marriage is offered to us. 

Opening with this montage proves to be the perfect platform for the story. Baumbach said that the beginning scene captures these “little moments” in their life together. Whereas as a big scene, as he explains, has to move clearly and linearly from beginning to end, we first glimpse Charlie and Nicole’s character in the middle of their ordinary life together, each one taking note of the virtues and idiosyncrasies of the other. Instead of showing the relationship’s decline from its highest moments of rapture, the decline is from its ordinary, little moments of family life.

The opening scene sets up what I thought was the most devastating moment in the movie. Both Charlie and Nicole go to court having hired lawyers whose resolve to win exceeds their own. Each attorney recounts “little moments” that we’ve seen throughout the story, tokens of affection that come out even in the midst of their respective frustration: The two playfully jostling with each other as they install the children’s seat that Charlie forgot to set up; or Nicole, having drunk a little too much wine, stumbling on the stairs after they both read Henry to bed.

But in court, these moments are revised and mobilized for the purpose of branding the other as an unfit parent. Small moments of affection, surfacing even in the midst of the separation, are turned into an indictment. It unties and inverts the opening scene. As the lawyers mercilessly argue, the camera shows Charlie and Nicole from a lower angle on opposite sides of their attorneys, each looking down in shame. That the lawyers know which parts of their relationship to highlight betrays the fact that each one has divulged even the “little moments.” This is the second narrative about their relationship we hear. And watching the shift from the first “story” to the second interrogates the narratives we form about the most intimate part of our lives. 

When the attorneys rewrite the story of their marriage in the courtroom, the reference points are factual, only they take on a perspective that neither Charlie nor Nicole assumed when they transpired. It calls to mind Ignatius of Loyola’s caution that the Evil Spirit will use truth against us. We can retell the facts of a happening but falsify the spirit in which they took place. More important than the facts of our life is the spirit which arranges them. 

 The heartache in the movie is not that a love has died, but that it painfully remains even as Charlie and Nicole become the other’s antagonist. A regretful parting starts to veer in the direction of hatred. Love exists in the film, but the narrative tension revolves around what that love will become, around whether or not the moments that transpired within that love will be remembered outside of it.

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Top 10 Jesuit Events of the 2010s

We’ve come a long way since 2010. Back then, Pope Benedict XVI was five years into his pontificate, there were still 10 Jesuit provinces in the U.S., Peter Faber was just “Blessed,” and no one had heard of the name Missy Franklin.

As we continue to kick off the new decade and look back on the last one, here is a completely subjective TOP TEN list of the biggest Jesuit events of the 2010s.

  1. U.S. Jesuit Provinces Reconfigured

Wait- you didn’t know this had happened? Fair enough. 

If you don’t work at a Jesuit institution, this probably hasn’t been on your radar. But since 2008, the Jesuits in the U.S. have been working to reorganize across the country. At the start of the decade, there were still ten Jesuit provinces in the U.S.

As we close the decade, mergers have cut that number in half, and this summer will be the final move to form the U.S.A. East Province and finish the reorganization with four new provinces: East, Midwest, Central and Southern, and West.

Much of this was a response to the simple reality that there are fewer Jesuits today than there were fifty years ago. But it has also been an attempt to lessen the number of Jesuits in “internal ministry” working in province offices and such, which allows more Jesuits to be collaborating in our institutions and other ministries. Plus, advances over the decades in travel and communication have made it much easier to coordinate projects across regions of the country.

  1. Jesuit Sports Successes

CNS photo/Dominic Ebenbichler, Reuters

The 2010s have been a tremendous decade for Jesuit schools and our alumni. Missy Franklin (Regis Jesuit, 2013) took the country by storm during the 2012 London Summer Olympics, winning four gold medals and a bronze at just 17 years old. Jordan Speith (Jesuit Dallas, 2011) burst onto the stage in 2014 when he made his debut at the Masters and finished in second place. He won the event the following year as the first of three major championships.

In college basketball, who can forget Sister Jean? The beloved then-98-year-old chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball team became an international sensation as the team made a shocking run to the Final Four in 2018 as the 11-seed. Just a year earlier, the Gonzaga Bulldogs finished second in March Madness, narrowly losing to North Carolina in the title game.

Last summer, the country was enraptured by the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the World Cup in France, with Julie Ertz (Santa Clara, 2014) leading the way. Ertz was named the National Player of the Year in both 2017 and 2019.

Other recent phenoms have included Matthew Boling (Strake Jesuit, 2019), who set the high school record in the 100m sprint and is looking to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and Fran Belibi (Regis Jesuit, 2019), who became only the second woman to win the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American game last March.

  1. MAG+S Expands Its Global Reach

MAG+S is a Jesuit-sponsored event for young adults in preparation for World Youth Day (WYD), which is an encounter with the Pope celebrated every 2-3 years in a different country. Thousands of youth journey from across the world to participate in WYD. The MAG+S program began in 1997, when Jesuits invited young people from colleges and parishes to join in a pilgrimage before WYD in Paris.

MAG+S continues to be organized by the local Jesuit provinces where WYD has been held in the days leading up to the event. In the 2010s, MAG+S was hosted in Spain (2011), Brazil (2013), Poland (2016), and most recently in Central America (2019), where participants spread out across five countries before convening in Panama for WYD. Next stop? Portugal in 2022! Save the date!

  1. Jesuit Publications

CNS photo/courtesy Paul Leingang

Every year there are scores of books published by Jesuits, about Jesuits, or on the broader topic of Ignatian spirituality. It would be too tough of a challenge to mention all the major publications of the past decade, but a couple of highlights come to mind.

Greg Boyle, S.J., published his book Tattoos on the Heart in 2011. In the book, Fr. Boyle shares from his 20+ years of experience running Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in Los Angeles. With moving narratives seen through the lens of faith, Fr. Boyle points to the kinship that we all share and the tremendous power of boundless compassion.

CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

James Martin, S.J., Editor at Large for our parent company America Media, had a busy decade of publishing. He kicked things off in 2010 with the publication of A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, an accessible read for anyone wanting to learn more about the Jesuits and an Ignatian approach to the world. But it has been his advocacy for the LGBT+ community that has received the most attention lately (including a face-to-face with Pope Francis!), which springboarded off the publication of Building a Bridge. This short book published in 2018 turns to the call of the Catechism for respect, compassion, and sensitivity in order to provide a roadmap for how the Catholic Church and LGBT+ community can come together.

  1. New, Exciting Apostolic Ventures for the Society of Jesus

Most Jesuit institutions in the U.S. have been around for a while. For example, Georgetown University was founded in 1789! But there were a handful of exciting new projects that launched in the 2010s.

In 2015, Loyola University Chicago launched “Arrupe College,” which offers a two-year associate’s degree to students with limited financial resources as a catalyst to a baccalaureate college. Roughly 90% of students carry no debt after completing the two years, and most of them are the first of their families to attend a higher-ed institute.

Another innovative project began in 2010 with the creation of the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins. This project, since renamed Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL), offers online programming from U.S. Jesuit universities to refugees and impoverished communities in 14 countries around the world. JWL offers English language courses, professional certificates, and degrees. Since its founding, JWL has served over 5,000 forcibly displaced and other marginalized persons, 50% of whom are women.

While the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice has been around since 1996, it made a big move in 2010. Before then, the Teach-In was held annually at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, GA. But in 2010, the decision was made to move the event to Washington, D.C., to expand its scope and add an advocacy day on Capitol Hill with meetings at congressional offices. The event has grown to roughly 2,000 participants, making it the largest Catholic social justice gathering in the U.S.

And if these new, exciting ventures weren’t enough for you…

  1. The Jesuit Post Is Born!

(Okay, we’re a little biased!)

In the early part of the decade, a group of young Jesuits were brainstorming new ways to minister in the digital world. An idea was hatched, and The Jesuit Post (TJP) was born! We began publishing articles in 2012, contributing to the online conversation on faith and culture.

TJP has evolved over the course of the decade. We have grown our social media presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We have strengthened our relationship with America Media. We have expanded our video content, including the popular “One-Minute Homily” series. Through it all, we remain a work of young Jesuits in formation, all of whom contribute to TJP on a volunteer basis while continuing with their primary missions of studies or apostolic ministry.

  1. New Jesuit Saints Are Canonized

FlickrCC user René Micallef

Peter Faber, S.J., was one of the original companions of St. Ignatius and was well known for his skill at directing people through the Spiritual Exercises. He was a roommate at the University of Parish with Francis Xavier and later Ignatius as well. The three are often considered the co-founders of the Society of Jesus. Nonetheless, Faber wasn’t beatified until 1872, over 150 years after Xavier and Ignatius became saints. And it wasn’t until Pope Francis became pope that Faber (one of Pope Francis’s favorite saints!) was finally canonized in 2013.

Faber wasn’t the only Jesuit to be canonized in the 2010s. Jacque Berthieu, S.J., a French missionary to Madagascar, was canonized in 2012 by Benedict XVI. José de Anchieta, S.J., a 16th c. Spanish missionary to Brazil, was canonized in 2014 by Francis. Most recently, André de Soveral, S.J., was canonized in 2017 by Francis as part of a group of thirty martyrs of Natal, killed for the faith in northern Brazil in 1645.

Sts. Peter Faber, Jacque Berthieu, José de Anchieta, and André de Soveral, pray for us.

  1. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Dies

CNS photo/Greg Walker, Spring Hill College

The 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., died in 2016 at the age of 88. He was elected to lead the Jesuits at the 33rd General Congregation in 1983. It was a delicate time in the Society of Jesus. The previous Superior General, Pedro Arrupe, has suffered a stroke two years earlier and wanted to resign due to his frail health. Pope John Paul II intervened, rejected Arrupe’s proposed successor, and named an interim leader until the election of Kolvenbach. 

A consummate politician, Kolvenbach navigated the Vatican with grace and ease. He served as Superior General for over 24 years. Shortly after Benedict XVI became pope, Kolvenbach was granted permission to step down. A Superior General is elected to serve until death, but Kolvenbach became just the second to resign office while still alive. He was succeeded by Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., who was elected in 2008. Kolvenbach spent his final years working quietly in the library of a Jesuit university in Beirut, Lebanon.

  1. 36th General Congregation and the Election of Arturo Sosa, S.J. as Superior General

CNS photo/Itua Egbor, S.J.

Following Kolvenbach’s lead, Superior General Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., consulted with Pope Francis and announced in 2014 that he, too, would step down from office while still alive. He convoked the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus for October 2016, where he officially resigned. At the Congregation, Arturo Sosa, S.J., from Venezuela was elected as the new Superior General, making him the first one from outside the European continent.

Along with the election of Sosa, the Congregation published decrees on the ministry of reconciliation and justice and renewed governance for mission. The Congregation also published a letter of praise for the witness of peace offered by Jesuits living in zones of war and conflict.

  1. Pope Francis Is Elected!

CNS photo/Paul Haring

You had to know this was coming, right?

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, very few people expected the 76-year-old Argentinian Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to be his successor. In fact, no Jesuit had ever been elected pontiff, and there were no other Jesuit cardinals who were even eligible to vote for Bergoglio.

Nonetheless, when the white smoke rose from the Vatican on March 13, 2013, it signaled the election of the first-even Jesuit pope, and the first-ever pope from outside of Europe. Heeding the advice of a fellow cardinal to “remember the poor,” he took the name Francis and began a papacy that has definitively marked the Catholic Church of the 2010s.

As we head into the new decade, we continue to pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the Society of Jesus. May the 2020s be a decade filled with God’s grace at work in our world.

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I Conquer Evil When I Watch Basketball

When I was in grade school, I forced myself to try out for the basketball team. I never liked basketball, wasn’t particularly fast, couldn’t shoot the ball, and preferred to sit on the bench. But, everyone else was doing it, and their participation convinced me that I needed to join in.

The seasons were miserable for me. If I enjoyed the company of my classmates, it was heavily outweighed by my sheer embarrassment at never developing any skills on the court. In fact, at a basketball camp one summer, the counselor wrote on my final evaluation: “Jake is the best passer on our team.” Not to brag, but I was excellent at ensuring I wouldn’t be expected to dribble or — God forbid! — shoot.

I was returned to those unhappy times as I read Pseudo-Dionysius for a theology class last semester. He proposes that evil doesn’t actually exist. Instead, our experience of evil represents our distance from God.

I’m not saying that basketball inherently distances us from God. But I’m pretty sure that the NBA never was and never will be my ultimate, God-given purpose.

It has become clear to me that my forced participation in an activity that matched none of my skills wasn’t what God had in mind for me. Instead, I spiralled into painful self-loathing. I absolutely hated myself for being so bad at something all of my classmates loved and thought was important.

When I was in eighth grade, I joined two choirs with active Christmas schedules and escaped the basketball court for good. But this removal by default meant that my self-loathing never had a chance to resolve. I surrounded myself with actors and artists and music types and thought I’d insulated myself from basketball for good.

Then I became a Jesuit.

After eighteen short months as a Jesuit, I got sent to work at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, NY. In addition to teaching a theology class, they placed me in the counseling office to help tutor and mentor students throughout the day.

In my first day on the job, I met with my predecessor and asked for a run-down on the students on his list. I felt familiar fears arise when he assured me that “this guy only really does his homework so he’s eligible to play basketball.” Over the next week, I anxiously anticipated meeting this devotee of my least favorite sport.

Soon after, I met Lebron. That’s not his real name but it might as well have been. I noticed that his algebra grades had slipped from the first quarter into the second. Asked for an explanation, he complained, “it’s impossible to get my homework finished because I have basketball practice for three hours a night.” I looked at his schedule further, “you practice basketball that much every night and you still go to gym class?”

At my insistence, he stopped going to gym class and instead we worked on his algebra homework. While the meetings started as a bit of a slog for both of us, they quickly became the highlight of my day, full of laughter and stories in addition to the endless problem sets.

After a few weeks, Lebron invited me to come and see him play. I made up excuses. I really enjoyed our time doing math, but I didn’t think I could revisit a place I so loathed. He asked a few more times, though, so I relented.

Even walking into the gym gave me pause. School gyms are the same: the smell of the floorwax, the sound of sneakers skidding and buzzers buzzing. I remembered the hours I’d spent bargaining with myself that simply showing up to this miserable place would help me to finally fit in. I had spent fifteen years avoiding basketball gyms precisely so I didn’t have to feel that rejection again. Now I was choosing to walk into one. It wasn’t quite Martin Scorsese’s Silence, but it felt like a mission where survival wasn’t guaranteed.

Imagine my shock then, to find myself enjoying the game! Lebron and his teammates were skilled ballplayers, exciting to watch and fast on their feet. Two quarters in, my fears had lifted. Unlike fifteen years prior, this basketball arena was the site of my ultimate, God-given purpose. God had not created me to be a basketball player, but He had created me to love and support my student, Lebron.

-//-

Image by Varun Kulkarni from Pixabay 

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FOCUS Student Summit Shows a Hope-filled Future for the Church

One might be surprised to find 10,000 young people spending their New Year’s week praying and learning how to give their talents to the “New Evangelization” but this is what took place this past week at the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The young people there were trying to answer the call from St. John Paul II and echoed by Pope Francis for a renewed commitment to helping people hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church, all rooted in the joy of the Gospel.

The new Universal Apostolic Preferences for the Society of Jesus call Jesuits and their collaborators to “share with others this most fundamental discovery of our own lives: Jesus Christ,” and “to offer a deeper alternative to secularism.” A similar apostolic thrust was found at last week’s FOCUS summit

The FOCUS missionary model is to send a team of approximately five recent college graduates who volunteer to serve in peer ministry and evangelization for a minimum of two years. This model has propelled FOCUS’s exponential growth. The mission began with two missionaries at Benedictine College in 1998 and now numbers over 730 lay missionaries serving in 172 locations across nearly all 50 states and four European countries. Since 1998, more than 900 young people that have participated in FOCUS ministries decided to pursue priestly and religious vocations. 

Jesus is the source of goodness itself. He desires to love us more than we could imagine and to satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So it makes sense then that the young people at SLS who have have already encountered Jesus want to share Him with others. 

 The event is often referred to as an “upper room”, alluding to the site where the disciples gathered  after the Ascension and waited before the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and sent them to the ends of the earth.

 As the world changes, the Church must find new ways to preach the truth of God’s love. FOCUS is responding to that need. Successful evangelization depends upon the extent to which those who receive the good news are inspired, encouraged, and prepared to share it with others. The goal of SLS is just that, to form young people into missionary disciples. The mission is simple: meet people where they are, introduce them to Jesus Christ, and invite them to develop a relationship with Him in the Catholic Church.

For many, the best part of SLS is not the world-renowned speakers, but the simple gift of being together. Students meet other Catholics who are serving the Church in a plethora of ways: dozens of volunteer programs, nearly 70 religious orders, over 300 priests, institutes of higher education, bishops, artists, and Catholic small businesses. Between sessions, students can meet and learn about the endless possibilities of serving God in His Church. SLS is a meaningful encounter with the breadth and depth of diversity in the Catholic Church.

Another of the Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences is  “accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future”. SLS is a ministry that  does just that, provides an experience of hope rooted in Jesus.  Thus it is no surprise that Jesuits have been collaborating with FOCUS for decades as chaplains and spiritual directors.

SLS inspires a hopeful vision for the future of the Catholic Church, one with a meaningful place for all God’s children in it. The mission of Jesus Christ belongs to the whole Church, which means we are all invited to learn from each other and work together to build the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His kingdom in heaven.

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FOCUS Student Summit Shows a Hope-filled Future for the Church

One might be surprised to find 10,000 young people spending their New Year’s week praying and learning how to give their talents to the “New Evangelization” but this is what took place this past week at the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The young people there were trying to answer the call from St. John Paul II and echoed by Pope Francis for a renewed commitment to helping people hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church, all rooted in the joy of the Gospel.

The new Universal Apostolic Preferences for the Society of Jesus call Jesuits and their collaborators to “share with others this most fundamental discovery of our own lives: Jesus Christ,” and “to offer a deeper alternative to secularism.” A similar apostolic thrust was found at last week’s FOCUS summit

The FOCUS missionary model is to send a team of approximately five recent college graduates who volunteer to serve in peer ministry and evangelization for a minimum of two years. This model has propelled FOCUS’s exponential growth. The mission began with two missionaries at Benedictine College in 1998 and now numbers over 730 lay missionaries serving in 172 locations across nearly all 50 states and four European countries. Since 1998, more than 900 young people that have participated in FOCUS ministries decided to pursue priestly and religious vocations. 

Jesus is the source of goodness itself. He desires to love us more than we could imagine and to satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So it makes sense then that the young people at SLS who have have already encountered Jesus want to share Him with others. 

 The event is often referred to as an “upper room”, alluding to the site where the disciples gathered  after the Ascension and waited before the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and sent them to the ends of the earth.

 As the world changes, the Church must find new ways to preach the truth of God’s love. FOCUS is responding to that need. Successful evangelization depends upon the extent to which those who receive the good news are inspired, encouraged, and prepared to share it with others. The goal of SLS is just that, to form young people into missionary disciples. The mission is simple: meet people where they are, introduce them to Jesus Christ, and invite them to develop a relationship with Him in the Catholic Church.

For many, the best part of SLS is not the world-renowned speakers, but the simple gift of being together. Students meet other Catholics who are serving the Church in a plethora of ways: dozens of volunteer programs, nearly 70 religious orders, over 300 priests, institutes of higher education, bishops, artists, and Catholic small businesses. Between sessions, students can meet and learn about the endless possibilities of serving God in His Church. SLS is a meaningful encounter with the breadth and depth of diversity in the Catholic Church.

Another of the Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences is  “accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future”. SLS is a ministry that  does just that, provides an experience of hope rooted in Jesus.  Thus it is no surprise that Jesuits have been collaborating with FOCUS for decades as chaplains and spiritual directors.

SLS inspires a hopeful vision for the future of the Catholic Church, one with a meaningful place for all God’s children in it. The mission of Jesus Christ belongs to the whole Church, which means we are all invited to learn from each other and work together to build the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His kingdom in heaven.

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The Epiphany: Chasing Stars | One-Minute Homily

What is it that leads you closer to Christ? Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, reflects on the Epiphany, when the Magi were led to Jesus by a star. Based on the readings for January 5, 2019.

Look up! Go on, look up! Can you find your star?!

Hello! I’m Damian Torres-Botello and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them.” And boy did it! And those magi found the child Jesus lying in a manger. What do you find when you look up?

Today’s Gospel is all about people being attracted to a star to find the fullness and glory of life only Christ can give. And in order for these magi to follow their star they had to step outside of themselves, leave their comfort zone, and go to unfamiliar places. And they did this with such trust!

Have you discerned the star you follow? And where does this star lead you? For the magi, their star led them to a person in a place most unanticipated. An infant king. In a stable.

This Gospel encourages a humble following towards the glory of God manifested where we least expect it. Sometimes a star leads us to be a light for others; sometimes a star is difficult to see, hard to follow. But always, the star is there, leading us graciously and lovingly, inviting us more clearly, deeply, and nearer to God.

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The Epiphany: Chasing Stars | One-Minute Homily

What is it that leads you closer to Christ? Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, reflects on the Epiphany, when the Magi were led to Jesus by a star. Based on the readings for January 5, 2019.

Look up! Go on, look up! Can you find your star?!

Hello! I’m Damian Torres-Botello and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

“And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them.” And boy did it! And those magi found the child Jesus lying in a manger. What do you find when you look up?

Today’s Gospel is all about people being attracted to a star to find the fullness and glory of life only Christ can give. And in order for these magi to follow their star they had to step outside of themselves, leave their comfort zone, and go to unfamiliar places. And they did this with such trust!

Have you discerned the star you follow? And where does this star lead you? For the magi, their star led them to a person in a place most unanticipated. An infant king. In a stable.

This Gospel encourages a humble following towards the glory of God manifested where we least expect it. Sometimes a star leads us to be a light for others; sometimes a star is difficult to see, hard to follow. But always, the star is there, leading us graciously and lovingly, inviting us more clearly, deeply, and nearer to God.

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Review: Terrance Malick’s “A Hidden Life”

Warning: this review contains spoilers

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)

Last Saturday two friends, a married couple, and I watched Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. The movie recounted the life of Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943), an Austrian farmer who refused to serve in the Nazi military because he believed that fighting for Hitler would violate his Christian commitment to not kill. Malick painstakingly depicts the prelude to Franz’s decision and the consequences that flow from it. 

Set amidst a beautiful Alpine backdrop, we see Franz’s loving relationship with his wife Franzsiska, three young daughters, and aged mother.  His days are quite ordinary-billing hay, building barns, and milking cows. Yet, we also see him grapple with the decision to sign the oath of allegiance to Hitler. And, after he decides to refrain from doing so, we witness the Nazis imprisoning him and eventually killing him. Franz’s village ostracizes his family and we realize that the social cost of his decision. At the end of the film, my female friend turned to her husband and whispered, “If you were in that position, I want you to know that you should sign the oath!” 

I was very struck by her comment and upon asking, she clarified that Franz’s actions seemed completely absurd given his commitments to his family. I couldn’t help but agree that there is something profoundly uncomfortable about Franz’s situation. Malick clearly depicts him as a hero, but I began to wonder, what kind of hero is he? Pope Benedict XVI beatified Franz in 2007. In Catholic lingo, this means that the Church recognized that Franz practiced “heroic virtue” and “lived in fidelity to God’s grace.”1 It seems that while Blessed Franz was undoubtedly courageous, the real question is not one of heroism but rather sanctity. What can Blessed Franz teach us about sanctity, in his time and in ours? 

Malick’s film provides one possible answer in a scene where Franz helps his friend, Ohlendorff to repair their parish church. After Franz compliments Ohlendroff on his painting of Christ, he responds:

“Others will look at this picture, and think that sympathizing with him, being moved by his story, will benefit them in the beyond. They’ll count themselves lucky that they didn’t live in times like ours, when your life might be demanded of you. Instead of suffering for the truth, I paint it. I turn the suffering of the brave into my livelihood…I paint this comfortable man. A halo over his head. Some day I’ll paint the true one.”

Yet, the paradox of this conversation is that true icon of Christ comes not from the hand of Ohlendroff but from the life of Franz. His opposition to signing the oath stemmed from a deep conviction cooperating with the Nazis would be nothing other than a betrayal of the God who became human, suffered, died, and rose for Him in the person of Jesus Christ. Within the matrix of his life circumstances, the pigments of Franz’ prayer and opposition swirled together to show an icon, not of a comfortable man, but of a true Christ who understood that truth makes demands of us.

And yet, my friend’s comment remains. There is a level of irrationality to Franz’s actions. Saints challenge us. They disrupt the easy habits that we slip into. Far too easily, we can simply opt for what is most convenient at the expense of what we owe to others out of justice. If Franz’s life seems absurd, it is a commentary that mirrors the even larger absurdity of Nazi Germany systematically murdering six million Jews along with many others. Moreover, he stands in clear contrast to the complicit masses who allowed such evil to go on.

In our own day, we are all too aware of the structural evils at work in the world. In addition to our own personal sins, we know of climate change, global wars, poverty, rising number of refugees, racism, the sex abuse crisis, and more. Franz found inspiration in his faith to bear the ultimate witness. His prayer and commitments allowed him to be a prophetic light in a Church that was sometimes al too complicit with the forces of darkness. 

The same Spirit that guided Jesus and that guided Franz is with each of us today. Franz invites us to trust that if we bring open and generous hearts to God in prayer that perhaps we too can bear witness to the power of a life that can withstand death. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once described Christ as playing in “ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his”.  Christ’s mystery played out in Blessed Franz’ life and by faith we believe that it will play out in ours.

Image courtesy of IMDb, used under Fair Use Laws

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Catholic Guide to 2020

Happy New Year!

As we welcome in 2020, this year has a lot in store, and not just the Summer Olympics and the U.S. national elections on November 3! Here at TJP, we wanted to offer you a list of some of the top Catholic events to look forward to in 2020. 

Get out your calendars and add the following:

 

1. FOCUS SLS (Dec 30-Jan 3 in Phoenix, AZ)

As we begin the new year, young adults are currently gathered in Phoenix, AZ, at the FOCUS Student Leadership Summit (SLS), which occurs every other year in between the larger SEEK conference. FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach program that sends recent college grads in teams of four missionaries to 150+ college campuses to lead Bible studies and engage the faith of students.

SLS is designed to train leaders in discipleship, prayer, and small-group facilitation. The event includes adoration, confessions and daily Mass, along with keynote speakers and breakout sessions. This year’s speakers include FOCUS founder Curtis Martin and law professor/writer Helen Alvaré, along with a New Years Eve concert with Matt Maher.

 

2. March for Life (January 24 in Washington, D.C.)

CNS photo/Leslie E. Kossoff

Beginning in 1974, the March for Life has been held every year in Washington D.C. on the Friday nearest to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States. The event starts at midday and begins with a rally at the National Mall, followed by a march that ends at the steps of the Supreme Court.

Several Catholic events surround the march, including an all-night prayer vigil at the National Basilica, a youth rally at the Verizon Center hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington, and morning Masses before the office March begins. Georgetown University also hosts the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life every year on the day after the March.

 

3. Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (Feb 20-23 in Los Angeles, CA)

CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Angelus News

Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Religious Education Congress (RECongress) is the largest annual gathering of Catholics in the U.S. with roughly 40,000 people attending. The RECongress is split into two parts: a youth day on February 20, and then three days for adults from February 21-23.

The Youth Day theme for 2020 is “20/20 Through God’s Eyes” and brings together high school youth for liturgy, workshops and entertainment. The theme this year for the adult days is “Live Mercy – Be Holy” and offers a remarkable 200 speakers in over 300 workshops (a mix of English, Spanish and Vietnamese), plus entertainment, concerts and daily liturgies. The speakers this year include Bishop Robert Barron, Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI, and Jesuit priests Greg Boyle, SJ, and James Martin, SJ.

 

4. Pope Francis publishes his Apostolic Exhortation in response to the Amazon Synod (expected by March)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Apostolic exhortations are commonly issued by the pope in response to synods, like Cristus vivit (“Christ is Alive”) promulgated by Pope Francis in March 2019 in response to the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018.

The regional Synod of Bishops on the Amazon was held at the Vatican in October 2019, and Pope Francis’s response is expected before March of this year. While the topics of married priests and women deacons to serve in remote regions of the Amazon was a hot topic in the media, the synod addressed many other topics, including synodality, ecology, and the protection of indigenous communities. 

 

5. The Economy of Francis (March 26-28 in Assisi)

CNS photo/Isabelle Baldwin

In his encyclicals, Pope Francis has issued a call to critically evaluate the world economy and how it could be better structured in a way that promotes human dignity and the common good with particular attention for the most marginalized.

This event, the Economy of Francis (in reference to St. Francis of Assisi, from whom the Pope took his name), is an international meeting between young scholars and activists in the field of economics, convened by Pope Francis himself. It will bring together over 2,000 participants from 120 different countries.

 

6. Global Compact on Education (May 14 in Rome)

On the fifth anniversary of the publication of the papal encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is inviting those who are invested in the education of young people to sign a “Global Pact.” The goal of the meeting is to renew a passion in educators for a more open and inclusive education, including patient listening, constructive dialogue, and better mutual understanding.

According to an African proverb, “it takes a whole village to educate a child.” In this spirit, Pope Francis hopes the event will help to create a global “educational village” that is committed to the care of our common home and dedicated to generating peace, justice, and hospitality among all peoples of the human family. The event will bring together leaders of various religions, spokespeople of international non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), and academics.

 

7. Pope Francis publishes Praedicate evangelium on the governance of the Roman Curia (reportedly at the end of July)

CNS photo/Vatican Media

Since his election, Pope Francis has targeted the restructuring of the Roman Curia as a top priority. This year is expected to finally bring the publication of Praedicate evangelium, the apostolic constitution that will redesign the structure of the Curia to make it more effective in ministering to the global Church. This type of document, an apostolic constitution, is the highest form of legislation issued by the Pope.

While this might not be the hottest item to mark on your calendars, it could bring a big shakeup to the central governance of the Church. It is sure to cause a stir, certainly in Rome, if not in your local parish.

 

8. Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (November 14-16 in Washington, D.C.)

CNS photo/courtesy Ignatian Solidarity Network

Held annually in Washington D.C., the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) is the largest Catholic social justice gathering in the U.S. The Teach-In brings together roughly 2,000 participants from the Ignatian family (mostly groups from Jesuit high schools and colleges, but many more, including TJP readers!).

The first two days of the Teach-In feature keynote speakers, breakout sessions, prayer and liturgy. Booths are set up outside the event hall, where you can find the smiling faces of TJP staff and pick up free swag! And don’t forget to catch Fr. James Martin, S.J. for a selfie! On the final day of the event, groups head to Capitol Hill to meet with representatives in Congress to advocate for policy changes, on such topics as immigration and criminal justice reform.

*****

If those eight events aren’t enough to satiate your appetite, here are a few other events that might be of interest:

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7 Reminders from the Popes that Catholics Must Oppose Anti-Semitism

In the wake of yet another apparently anti-Semitic attack, we need to be reminded of our responsibility to stand up against hatred in all its forms. Just as we are all called by our shepherds to be actively anti-racist, so too must we be actively working against the yet-undefeated evil of violence against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

This is not a new call. Here are seven quotations from recent popes condemning anti-Semitism:

  1. “Today the practice of persecuting the Jews has begun again here and there. Brothers and sisters, this is neither human nor Christian. The Jewish people are our brothers, and they should not be persecuted.” Francis, General Audience of 13 November, 2019

  2. “As I have often repeated, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots.” Francis, Greeting to a Delegation of the World Congress of Mountain Jews

  3. “To be anti-Semitic also signifies being anti-Christian. Once again I feel the duty to pay heartfelt recognition to those who have died unjustly and to those that have dedicated themselves to assure that the names of these victims may always be remembered. God does not forget!” Benedict XVI, Address to the Representatives of the Jewish Community in France

  4.  “The Church remembers the spi­ritual link between herself and Abraham’s stock. It is this link, which the declaration goes on to explain and illustrate, that is the real foundation for our relation with the Jewish people. A relation which could well be called a real parentage and which we have with that religious community alone… This link can be called a sacred one, stemming as it does from the mysterious will of God.” John Paul II, Address to the International Liaison Committee

  5.  “…the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” Paul VI, Nostra Aetate

  6. “I am your brother, Joseph,” John XXIII greeting a delegation from an American Jewish charity in 1960.

  7. “At the most solemn moment of the Mass we recite the prayer which contains the expression ‘sacrifice of Abel, sacrifice of Abraham, sacrifice of Melchizedek’ in three strokes, three times, three steps, the entire religious history of mankind—a magnificent passage… Note that Abraham is called our patriarch, our ancestor. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the thought and the sublime reality expressed in this text. It is alien to us, a movement in which we Christians can have no part. The promise was made to Abraham and to his descendants. It is realized in Christ, and through Christ in us who are members of his mystical body. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. No, it is not possible for Christians to take part in anti-Semitism… Anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually, we are Semites.” Pius XI, “Spiritually, we are Semites.”

*****

As a Church, we haven’t always lived up to our ideal in defending our ancestors in faith, but we cannot sit idly by while anti-Semitism around the world rears its ugly head. We must work actively to promote an end to this violence, while being united in prayer.

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The Holy Family: Prayer and Perseverance | One-Minute Homily

The Holy Family went through a lot together. Eric Immel, SJ, reminds us that we too can model the Holy Family through prayer and perseverance. Based on the readings for Sunday, December 29, 2019.

My grandma used to say, “a family that prays together stays together.”

I’m Eric Immel, SJ, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

We know that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were the praying kind of family. They needed to be! For the second week in a row, we hear about Joseph’s dreams in the gospel – signs from God that make major demands on his family.

Escape to Egypt and doge a tyrant king? Move back to Israel and live in a totally new place? All so that this baby, who is GOD, can save humanity? They’d have to be a praying family to navigate all that!

Families still face tremendous adversity today, just like the Holy Family did. One gift of family, however, is that we don’t have to suffer alone.

The Holy Family was able to persevere because they prayed and responded to God’s call. They persevered because they had each other.

May we, as one family in Christ, pray together in the same way and always respond to God with courageous love.

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The Holy Family: Prayer and Perseverance | One-Minute Homily

The Holy Family went through a lot together. Eric Immel, SJ, reminds us that we too can model the Holy Family through prayer and perseverance. Based on the readings for Sunday, December 29, 2019.

My grandma used to say, “a family that prays together stays together.”

I’m Eric Immel, SJ, and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

We know that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were the praying kind of family. They needed to be! For the second week in a row, we hear about Joseph’s dreams in the gospel – signs from God that make major demands on his family.

Escape to Egypt and doge a tyrant king? Move back to Israel and live in a totally new place? All so that this baby, who is GOD, can save humanity? They’d have to be a praying family to navigate all that!

Families still face tremendous adversity today, just like the Holy Family did. One gift of family, however, is that we don’t have to suffer alone.

The Holy Family was able to persevere because they prayed and responded to God’s call. They persevered because they had each other.

May we, as one family in Christ, pray together in the same way and always respond to God with courageous love.

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Review: The Two Popes

Warning: This article contains spoilers

There is no doubt that Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce give such moving performances in The Two Popes. There were moments in the film when I thought I was actually looking at Benedict XVI and Francis themselves. At times, Hopkins channeled the child-like soft-spokenness of Ratzinger/Benedict. At other times, Pryce perfectly portrayed Bergoglio/Francis’ pastoral charm and even nailed his gait. The shots of the Sistine Chapel nearly had me convinced that we were spectators of the Papal Conclave in the actual Chapel. The only thing that kept me from believing that was the knowledge that media access to the Chapel is not easily granted, much less for the sake of filming a motion picture.

Yet what still has me turning this film over and over in my head is how director Fernando Meirelles gave this film multiple personalities. Put more bluntly, I think that the film has some “Jekyll and Hyde” aspects to it. I would call these aspects the “Hollywood touch” and the “human touch”. The “Hollywood touch” made the film frustrating to watch at times since it sought to insert drama where there would normally be none. I will enumerate my frustrations below. However, in those moments of the “human touch”, Meirelles turns the seemingly mundane into gold. Ultimately,the greatest gold that the viewer can mine, if she or he is paying close attention, is the invitation to peer into the humanity of these two great figures of the Roman Catholic Church. In their shared humanity, we glimpse  a profound example in giving and receiving mercy and forgiveness.

Let me begin with the frustrating parts, which occurred mainly during the first 30 minutes of the film. Hopefully viewers pick up on the ‘Hollywood touch’ that was given to the Papal Conclave. I am referring to more than just the addition of the hit Abba song “Dancing Queen” that made the election sequence feel more like watching the unfolding of the election of Prom Queen. The intrigue displayed by the soon-to-be Benedict XVI, played by Anthony Hopkins, was a combination of cringe-worthy and laughable. To see Josef Ratzinger—one who is known for his mild-mannered comportment and timid personality—depicted as envious, condescending and panicky when he felt threatened by losing votes to two other men made me guffaw. All these details converted the Conclave from a solemn event of discernment into an intriguing drama worthy of the Borgias.

The meeting in the garden of Castel Gandolfo reminded me of the academic flare of the Dialogues of Plato combined with the drama of a Clinton-Trump debate. While the content of what the characters said is faithful to their respective sources, the way they are depicted in saying it cause me so much frustration. The condescension (or “shade throwing” you could say) that was exchanged between Benedict and Francis was far different  the gentle manner that Ratzinger is known for, or the ever respectful way in which Bergoglio usually deals with Benedict.

I find that I am sensitive to how Benedict and Francis are portrayed in this film. I was in consolation as I heard the vocation story of Bergoglio. I was in consolation as I saw Benedict seated at the piano, laughing with Bergoglio, sharing his love for classical music. I was in desolation when I saw two men, known for their sensitive hearts, depicted as being so brusque with each other in their debates. I was in desolation as Benedict was admitting to an experience of a dark night of the soul during his papacy. I was in consolation when I saw the two Popes dancing. In short, I was being moved in some way by the fictional and the real humanity of these men portrayed on the screen.

As I was discerning through all the emotions that I felt during and after the viewing of this film, I realized that the desolation and consolation that I was experiencing came from the fact that I love BOTH of these Popes. Yes, I belong to the majority that has not been receiving much attention–the folks in the pews who have held no animosity against either Benedict or Francis. Now, that is not to say that I am blind to their deficiencies, as if both of these men were superheroes who can do no wrong; but there is a difference between healthy criticism and creating a straw-man that we metaphorically burn in effigy with our words.

The main difference is mercy and forgiveness. I was so moved—frankly, relieved—by the sequence that depicted an exchange of confessions between Benedict and Francis. If these two characters, depicted as ‘caricatures’ representative of views between two different ends of the pew, can forgive and absolve each other, perhaps even we can forgive each other in spite of our differences. We who have taken too quickly to the ubiquitous polarization of our society; we who have been prompt in pointing out the splinters in the eyes of others while ignoring the beams in ours; we who have forgotten how to enjoy together the simplest of joys like standing at a piano, watching a television show, or cheering for a soccer game—can even we perhaps absolve one another?

Image courtesy of IMDb, used under Fair Use Laws

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The Day After Christmas I Think about Death

A Jesuit friend and I visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York two days after Thanksgiving. It’s the kind of place you have to see to believe – like the difference between seeing a postcard of the Grand Canyon and then actually going to the Grand Canyon – the experiences don’t compare. 

Two massive square holes  – the acre-sized footprints of the two towers – are now waterfalls bordered by the names of the fallen dead. The bottoms of these holes aren’t visible from above – eternity into the earth. The memorial is supposed to feel this way, I think. Where once we would have stood eyes shooting skyward toward the barely visible tops of the iconic buildings, we now stand looking downward, negative space forcing us to remember that something used to be there. 

Beneath these holes in the museum there is a grave – a wall bearing thousands of paintings trying to recall the blue of the sky on that September morning. Behind the wall rests the remains of unidentified people who died that day. A Virgil quote spelled out with letters cast in metal recovered from the site makes the point clear: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” 

*

Just a week ago, I had the privilege of traveling to El Salvador. The morning after we arrived, we visited the place where six Jesuits were murdered by the Salvadoran army in the night on November 16, 1989. Five of the six were found dead in what used to be a basic courtyard. It is now a rose garden, a simple reminder of the way that life and death always dance together, beauty possible even in the midst of the ugliness of man. 

Two of the Jesuits’ companions were also killed that night – a mother and daughter. I stood in the room where they were shot. The mother – Elba – tried to shield her daughter – Celina – from the soldiers’ bullets. They were found that way, tangled up in maternal embrace, blameless victims of an atrocity that demanded no witnesses be left alive. Love itself pulsed in the room, cinder block walls expanding and contracting with each breath I took. 

Close to these sites, the Jesuits are entombed in the wall of a chapel – simple engraved metal squares bearing their names. On the exterior wall of the chapel, a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero – “Si me matan, resucitaré en el pueblo salvadoreño.” If they kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.

And the martyrs live on. Certainly, their story is told through the garden and their graves. Even more, the people still tell their story. A moment in the past made living in the present by the voices of those who remain. 

*

My family has a long-standing betting pool related to the Green Bay Packers. There are 30 of us involved, and my parents serve as the primary administrators. Each week, we get a little email update letting us know who the big winners are.

My aunt died about a month ago after a long illness. She’s been a regular part of our conversation and prayer. And, as of this writing, she’s won the Packers betting pool every week since. She will not be forgotten.

***

It’s over now. It’s December 26th. The day after Christmas. And, weirdly, while we celebrated a birth yesterday, we remember a death today. 

Over the last two days, many of us sat in overstuffed churches, little girls with golden curls bobbing up and down in red-and-green checkered jumpers, delighting in traditional Christmas music. Many of us saw faces from the year before, a welcome remembrance of the passage of time and the joy of home – we change, but some things don’t. Many of us ripped open presents and felt a strange relief when we got the thing we wanted, or perhaps surprise in getting the thing we didn’t know we wanted. Many of us ate our traditional family meal, drank a hot, boozy drink we only drink at Christmas time, and fell asleep overstuffed like the church, content and tired and grinning. 

Some of us didn’t have that experience. Some of us faced things we dread – the uncle who always asks the wrong question, the sister who makes you feel like your life is worthless, the cousin who never shows up, the grandparent who isn’t around anymore. 

Yesterday was about Emmanuel – God with us. A recollection of that moment when everything changed. A time of waiting over and a time for rejoicing at hand.

And then today – the very next day – we commemorate St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, stoned for proclaiming the name of Jesus. We take his example as the fulfillment of a good Christian life. The kind of life worth living. 

Of course, I’d rather that none of them died the way they did – Jesus, Stephen, the martyrs of El Salvador, the victims of 9/11, my aunt – not by violence or illness. It shouldn’t be that way. Sometimes, it is.  Life and death are both a part of the act of living in light of the living God. 

The birth of Jesus and the death of Stephen both remind us that our lives rest in the Lord – God with us now and always, present within humanity – within you and within me. Even in facing death.

-//-

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

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Jesus is Here! Merry Christmas | One-Minute Homily

Merry Christmas! On this day we celebrate the miracle that God entered into our very humanity. Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, reflects on the incarnation of Jesus in this special One-Minute Homily.

It’s happened! Jesus is born! Amen and Merry Christmas!

Hello! I’m Damian Torres-Botello and this is my One-Minute Reflection.

In six more days we will ring in 2020. But, that’s the future. We must remain present to today, as we’ve attempted to do throughout Advent. But in our Gospel today, John invites us to take a look back to the very beginning — to the Word. And what is that Word? Jesus. Come on, say the Word with me… Jesus.

Jesus was not only God from the beginning but was God. And creation itself, even you and me, we all originated from that very same life-giving force. Amen, right?!

Today, the Word became flesh and begins to dwell amongst us. On this day, Jesus becomes en-fleshed, able to walk, talk, share a coffee, laugh, and mourn with us. What a Christmas this is indeed!

As we approach the precipice of another year, we take time to remember the greatest event of all: God entering into our world, not just for a visit, but as a permanent partner in our lives.

May we intentionally enter into our hearts and meet Jesus in love, excitement, and gratitude.

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4th Week of Advent: God and Dreams | One-Minute Homily

God spoke to Joseph in dreams. How does God speak to you? Eric Immel, SJ, reflects on dreams and recognizing God’s call in this week’s One-Minute Homily.

Based on the readings for Sunday, December 22, 2019.

It was all a dream, but did I pay attention? I’m Eric Immel, and this is my one-minute reflection.

Today, just before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we get the story of God’s call to Joseph. We know that Mary is pregnant, and we know that Joseph is supposed to marry her. For Joseph, things aren’t going as planned, and he considers bailing.

But then – boom – the sign – a dream, an angelic message to wed Mary and help raise Jesus. And, Joseph does it.

My dreams are weird – I have dreams about flying, about being a Jedi Knight, about ghosts – are these dreams divine signs? Is God trying to tell me something? My gut says no, but the truth is – maybe.

God comes at us from all sides at all times – who am I to say how God tries to communicate with me? What if Joseph hadn’t been open to his dream? What if his eyes hadn’t been opened by it? Things could be very different.

As we prepare to celebrate God with us, may we dream big and pay attention to the signs God offers us.

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